Alaska Native Sisterhood supports hunger strike

Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2000

Going into the 11th day of her hunger strike, Desa Jacobsson was hungry but said she's feeling good.

Speaking from Dillingham on Thursday morning, the Juneau activist said she still hadn't eaten since her Jan. 9 pledge to deny herself solid food until subsistence laws are changed to allow for subsistence hunting and fishing for Alaska Natives no matter where they live.

Though she's not doing any chewing, she hasn't given up her sense of humor or a short list of liquid necessities.

``I've got to have my coffee,'' she said. ``Then, I drink a glass of devil's club juice and water and a certain kind of tea. It's what I can keep down.''

While the lack of legislative response to her hunger strike is frustrating, Jacobsson said, she's gratified by the support she's getting from other people.

Members of Camp 2 of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, one of three such camps in Juneau, are showing their support by giving up a meal or two. Some are fasting for a day or more, said Carol Trebian, the camp's first vice president in a press release.

``We are concerned about her health,'' Trebian said. ``A life may be lost in the subsistence struggle if our leaders do not act now.''

ANS officials did not immediately return phone calls today.

Jacobsson wants both federal and state laws changed so Natives living in rural or urban areas of Alaska may freely fish and hunt for subsistence foods. Denying Natives their traditional ways, she said, is unacceptable. She said she can't deny who she is no matter what the hunting and fishing laws say.

``If you pull up a fish, does it ask you whether you're urban or rural?'' she said. ``You carry your culture like a shadow.''

In August, Jacobsson and four other Juneau women were arrested and charged with fishing in a closed area after they caught five sockeye salmon at a pond near the Mendenhall Glacier.

The legal changes that Jacobsson is starving for would take years, even if there was enough political will to change them. At this time, federal and state officials said Jacobsson's demands won't be met for a long time, if ever.

Rep. Al Kookesh, an Angoon Democrat and co-chairman of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said there's concern in the Native community for Jacobsson's health. However, her goal isn't necessarily shared by a majority of Alaska Natives.

The board of directors of the AFN, the largest Native organization in the state, won't have a chance to discuss the hunger strike until they meet Feb. 15.

The AFN has consistently taken the position that the subsistence provisions of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act should not be changed. Under that federal law, rural residents are given a preference for subsistence hunting and fishing. Urban residents are specifically identified, in the congressional record, as being people living in Juneau and Ketchikan among other urban centers.

Jacobsson would need changes to both state law and ANILCA to get what she's pledged to starve for. After more than 10 years, Kookesh said, the Legislature hasn't been able to move far on subsistence. Altering the federal law isn't an issue for the AFN yet.

``We haven't even started to think about that,'' he said. ``I think everybody has a part to play in the subsistence dilemma in the state. She's doing what she thinks she should do. I commend her for that.''



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